PhD project title and outline, including interdisciplinary dimension:
Monitoring drug levels through responsive hydrogel sensors
The monitoring of drug levels in complex samples such as blood or urine is challenging. Many active substances have a narrow therapeutic window of concentration over which they are effective. Below these levels, no therapeutic effect is observed, but above these levels toxic side-effects become prevalent. This can be particularly problematic for neonates, where dosage regimens for many drugs of this type are not well-established. Typically, to monitor these substances, an involved laboratory process of separation and assay can lead to results taking longer to obtain than the duration of effect of the drug itself. In such circumstances, therapeutic monitoring is impossible to achieve.
In this project, we will build on previous collaborative interdisciplinary work by the applicants on selective soft-matter sensing to develop rapid-response systems which are practically interference free and require no sample preparation. We will exploit the applicants’ extensive experience in design of selectively-assembled hydrogels to design drug-selective gelating materials, which will contain lanthanide-based sensors to read-out the degree of gelation, and hence drug concentration, via ultrasensitive detection of light emission. The lanthanide sensors, which are the expertise of the Gunnlaugsson group, have considerable advantages in read-out of concentration; emission is of a long lifetime, and is long wavelength, which mitigates against background autofluorescence from blood or urine. Additionally, emission can be finely-tuned to switch ‘on’ or ‘off’ in the presence or absence of the analyte respectively.
The synergistc application of materials science from the McCoy group with the sensing expertise of the Gunnlaugsson group will provide an outstanding training environment in industrially-relevant fields.
The materials developed will allow, for the first time, real-time monitoring of circulating blood concentrations of drugs to be available to clinicians, to inform more effectively dosing regimens. This in turn, will have impact in clinical outcomes for patients.
Primary Supervisor: Professor Colin McCoy (Pharmacy)
Secondary Supervisor: Professor Thorfinnur Gunnlaugsson (Professor of Chemistry - Trinity College Dublin)
External Partner/Organisation: Teleflex Medical